Sunday 27 March 2022

Nightmare Alley (2021)

This is a gorgeous film, shot in the dark colour tones favoured by 
Guillermo del Toro as used in so many other of his films. This one is a story based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham and previously made into a film in 1947 of the same name starring Tyrone Power, which I'm yet to track down. Word is that it's not as full and rich as this one.

I have appreciated previously the work of Guillermo del Toro as I have blogged about The Shape of Water and Cronos, though Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone spring to mind too. It's all so stylish and Nightmare Alley doesn't disappoint. I'm looking forward very much to his forthcoming take on the (dark, not fluffy) Pinocchio story.

This story is set in the late 1930's and concerns a 'carny' (travelling entertainment show) in the USA within which various acts are conning the public out of their money in lieu of entertainment and thrills. In the opening scene of the film, we see Stan burning a body in a house, which we come back to later. He appears to be a drifter and then rolls up looking for casual work, which he gets. He starts to learn from the artists and focuses in, as do we, on a 'psychic' sideshow where Zeena and Pete are scamming people. He's good at this and quickly comes up with his own ideas looking to make money himself.

Zeena is played by Toni Collette (Stowaway, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Unbelievable) and Pete, David Strathairn (Nomadland). I could have seen the late John Hurt playing that role very nicely, but laying that aside, both are excellent. Head of the carnival is a fairly underused Willem Dafoe (Tom & Viv), but he grabs the attention admirably during his short stay.

Stan hooks up with Molly, the electric woman (don't ask), who seems to be in a relationship of sorts with Bruno, the 'strongest man on earth'! Ron Perlman (Cronos) does a great, if limited turn as Bruno, clearly having fun. Molly is played by Rooney Mara (Una, Carol) and does an excellent job, torn between supporting the incoming Stan to help her escape the 'carny' and not being so sure, as she gets more deeply involved with him. Stan is played by Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Licorice Pizza) and again, pretty convincing and well cast in the lead.

Anyway, cutting a long story short, Stan and Molly escape the setup and go independent putting on their show, learnt from Zeena and Pete, to the masses at more classy and up-market events and venues. At one of these, Lilith, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett, sees through the scam and challenges Stan with a test in front of a live audience, which he passes. Then they fall for each other but Stan has grander plans to make even more money from her contacts and inside information about her rich patients, one being a seriously wealthy chap who is looking to connect with a dead relative. Blanchett is sumptuous in her role and, as you might expect, steals the show during her scenes with her amazing acting talent.

It's all getting very complicated now - and this film goes on for two and a half hours as the plot unfolds and story meanders back and forth. There's a sense in which it's a film of two halves - one at the carny and one after that, but as we approach the finale, loose ends are tied up and the cyclical nature of the tale puts the threads together nicely with three or four real surprises along the way. Say no more!

The setting is fabulous. Lilith's office is pure Art Deco with style and class. The whole film is shot dark with (presumably) a nod to the original and leanings towards Noir. Deep shadows, wide-brimmed hats, wild makeup colours, all very 1930/40s. The long running time passed quickly though it did feel as though towards the end it was rather hurried to reach outcomes. Even though it was a long film, it could have done with another 20 minutes. Perhaps there'll be a Director's Cut.

Very highly recommended, a great cast, beautifully shot, great sets, super story and some nice twists and turns. What's not to like! Available as I write on Disney+ but also to buy/stream from other outlets.

Monday 14 March 2022

Glasshouse (2021)

What a bizarre film, verging on arthouse but not quite getting there. It's about this group of people who are living inside a glasshouse to keep themselves from breathing the air outside as that would cause them to lose their memories. Looks like the rest of society has done so too.

There are 3 girls of various ages, a mother and son who flounce around in flowing clothes like it's a set from a Victorian-era drama, hair-do's and all. There's a real feel of The Beguiled about it along with tinctures of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

They take it in turns to guard the border from incomers and one day someone comes in. They shoot him dead! Then use his body to keep the greenery growing in order to get enough oxygen to maintain life for the small group.

Second along chappie is badly injured and is allowed in. They tend to his wounds whilst keeping him locked up, The Beguiled again. He gains their trust eventually and that's where things start to go about screwy and dark.

It's a really odd film, and I really could have done without the relentless cello music like I was watching Truly, Madly, Deeply! I won't say any more about the outcomes and intertwining of the characters and what's what and who's who in case you want to see it!

Certainly isn't Flop of the Fortnight but it is a bit off the wall! Nicely enough acted by a bunch of what appear to Brit actors who I didn't know and directed (by the relatively inexperienced Kelsey Egan), the set is claustrophobic as you'd imagine as the whole thing takes place in and around the glasshouse.

Currently 99p to rent on Amazon and other streaming services.

Meat Grinder (2009)

The original title of this gore-fest from Thailand was Cheuuat gaawn chim and it's a film which (possibly understandably) I can't seem to find on any streaming services, so had to track down a used DVD.

The idea, on paper at least, is a bit Sweeney Todd, where a woman hits on the idea of bumping people off, grinding them up, cooking them and opening a cafe, passing it off as 'meat' - in her case noodles, in Sweeney Todd's, Pies! The difference here is that there's no comic injection, nor light musical interludes, rather gore with graphic blood-bath gushings and the psycho woman in charge going fruit-loop on people with whatever sharp implements she can find!

It seems to be trying to make a social statement through all this about hardship in childhood, the mistreatment of women and children by men and the unfairness of the system. Some of the time the film meanders into arthouse leanings and ends up as a montage of confusion between reality and life viewed through her growing rage and madness.

It's an interesting view for those who have the stomach - there was one scene which I couldn't watch involving fingernails - I won't say any more! But yes, a gore-fest, and not a funny one. An attempt at a thoughtful reflection of society's misdeeds pouring down on one woman who ends up going right off the rails. Eeeek!

Saturday 12 March 2022

Duronic Laptop Stand DML121

I bought something similar to this years ago and it got left behind in Sussex! Needed another, so here it is. It's incredibly flexible and fitted the bill nicely to get my laptop screen up high enough so that I could also use my posh new keyboard rather than the laptop's keyboard.

Into the bargain, you can get the screen up to eye level which helps with neck/posture etc. The six leg bits can be arranged in pretty much any position and have push-buttons in the pivot/joint to enable the moves. They also have a 'degrees' marking - which is actually very useful as one gets completely confused getting right/left together!

The platter is metal and the legs plastic. Platter is 42cm x 27cm (not what it says in the blurb) which is pretty big - and my giant 17" gaming laptop fits nicely. I guess you could use it for holding anything really - and the pictures show people using it in very innovative situations, wrapping it around themselves in bed or on sofas!

There are some pads on the platter to prevent movement but the most useful bit in that respect is obviously the front raised 'lip'. If you raise it up fully you can get to 46cm, so it could be used as a makeshift 'standing' desk.

The higher it gets - and the wonkier the angles - the less stable it gets of course! Depending on the weight of the item on the platter - you can't defy gravity, so one needs to be a bit careful! They reckon 10KG - but you'd have to be pretty careful up at that end!

It's just over £20 and just the job for what I need, decently (if not brilliantly) made and should last for a few years - depending on how much you move it I guess! Buy from Amazon.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

The Professor (2018)

In the opening scenes of this film, we learn that a college professor has lung cancer. The doctor breaks the news to him and tells him that with treatment he has eighteen months tops, without, six. He decides to take the latter and try to squeeze life dry during the time he has left instead of spending a bit longer breathing, in and out of clinics.

This is the second Wayne Roberts films I've seen in a few weeks, following my viewing of Katie Says Goodbye, his 2016 outing starring Olivia Cooke. This one has a similar charm and reflective tone as ordinary people have to deal with ordinary situations thrown their way by ordinary life.

Johnny Depp here stars in the central and titular role as Richard, the man in charge of a group of teenagers trying to learn academically from him, whilst he has to deal with a rebellious daughter and wife who's having an affair with his boss! They're clearly a monied family living in a lovely house with all the social and economic advantages you'd expect for a well-paid college professor.

Richard intends to tell the family over dinner, the night of the consultation, but instead he gets bombshell announcements from his daughter first, then his wife - so decides to shelve the idea! Then we see him reflecting on life, taking stock of what may or may not be important, a confirmed atheist struggling with the point (or futility) of what he may or may not do with his six months.

His classroom turns into a philosophical medium, with nods to Dead Poet's Society, as his new-found attitude brings freedom of expression, behaviour and outlook. The students around him respond to this in their own way and relish the opportunity to 'hang out' with Richard, joining him in his freedom, moulding their young minds and attitudes into the bargain. Richard behaves badly with some, tries things that he never has done before, shows a new concern for people he knows will be left behind - and enjoys the power he has over his boss, who thinks he might be able to intervene! All good comic turns in their own spheres.

Richard has a good friend, Peter, who tries really hard to look out for him and for a large part of the film, is the only other person who knows about the diagnosis. Peter is played by Danny Huston (Big Eyes, Stan and Ollie) and does it well, leaping between emotions - often comically. Rosemarie DeWitt (La La Land) plays Veronica, Richard's wife, in a quirky and funny way often, with Odessa Young (The Daughter, Shirley) rounding the family off as the cute daughter Olivia trying to find her sexuality. The rest of the cast support well - especially a few of the students in his class.

The central subject matter stops this from ever quite getting into farce territory, but without that to apply the brakes, it could well have ended up just that. The story moves along at a reasonable pace towards the finale which, as you'd imagine, becomes moving and touching but never soppy. In fact the very final scenes inject a Reggie Perrin kind of look at the absurdity of life and living.

Johnny Deep is quite excellent throughout, though I got the impression that he wasn't really trying very hard - rather having a bit of fun with it all - but turning up the dial on emotional context when needed. It's a good film, spending a while amongst the toffee-nosed as we get onside with Richard giving everything (and most people) the 'V's-up! Adequately directed in the field of light entertainment, unlike Kate Says Goodbye which felt much more of a real-life social drama in many ways. All good stuff though. As I write, it's on Amazon Prime Video - or various streaming platforms. Give it a go!

Tuesday 1 March 2022

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of February 2022

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 679 - Music Museum Madness
Saturday 5th February
Steve and I are back again with an hour of musings on all things mobile/phone and this week Tim Evans returns with hot news and thoughts about the forthcoming Samsung models, comparison notes on all-things folding with Steve and I dip back into the world of Nokia!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 6th February
We're here again - it's Gareth and me unpacking all the interesting tech news on a Sunday again. Who needs a roast lunch when you have this pair of buffoons, unprepared as ever?! The Sammy event is coming on Wednesday, so we chat about that, gaming, connecting, powering and Koo'ing!

Whatever Works
Episode 155 - Xtreme Steam Dream!
Friday 4th February
Aidan Bell and I welcome Steve back this time as we find out Whatever Works in his life - and throw some stuff from you and us into the potpourri too! Plenty to get under your Skin, cable you up, put your stamp on the matter, turn a table and even belt up your audio!

Projector Room
Episode 106 - Reacher/Android
Wednesday 9th February
Gareth, Allan and I are back again for another fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we're heading for L.A., hitting monkeys and dragons, sitting on a Ledge and considering what's not the Mother of Android films!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 680 - 2015 was Inspiring
Saturday 12th February
Steve and I are joined this week again by Ben Wood of the Mobile Phone Museum to chat - this time more broadly about his thoughts on smartphones, tech news and what he's been using over the last few years personally.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 13th February
Sunday splurge time again as Gareth and I wade through what's caught our eye in tech in the last week, repeatedly unprepared! Yes, Sammy is our friend but we also have time for Mario, Ookla and Doughnuts from Sony. We also enter a Beetle drive with a garage-based Qi Charger and all brought to you from a pressing plant in Middlesbrough!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 681 - 60 going on 16
Thursday 17th February
Steve and I are here, early doors, to bring you a show again as we pave the way for the PSC Microsoft Fan Club and have no time for Eunice! Plenty of chatter as usual, all sorts of phone stuff.

Whatever Works
Episode 156 - Eunice and Dolly!
Friday 18th February
Aidan and I are back this fortnight with another look at Whatever Works for us and you! Plenty to natter about, from a Kluster of Kanrax and Blackrock Blu Tack to Little Explorers in Fingerless Gloves and still time to expel some wind! The wind that winds us up! Indulge and consume - it'll blow you away!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 20th February
It's weekend tech tinkering time again with Gareth and I bringing you this week's record-breaking show! Join us if you fancy a Moto hanging around your neck, know what GTC stands for, want to sample Trump's Truth or just dig hanging out with this Fast Pair!

Projector Room
Episode 107 - Encanto Mist
Wednesday 23rd February
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another look at film, cinema and TV. Lots of goodies as usual from us and you including our trip to Tokyo, Disney delights, violent vampires and the inauguration of the Ana de Armas Fan Club!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 682 - A Trio of Duos
Saturday 26th February
If you're not interested in the Microsoft Surface Duo phones you might want to FF on this one! Steve and I welcome new guest Shane Craig of ScaryIfLiteral fame and we compare notes on the device. It's a flipping fold! A bit of time for other stuff too, but not much!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 27th February
Gareth and I back again this week with more terrific tech! This week we Reel off a Meta copycat, Prime you for a RealMe Book, save your screen and passwords, rotate your keyboard and even trip over a wire - remotely!

Headless (2015)

Blimey! Hold onto your hats - well, heads, actually. This is not one for the faint hearted for sure. A gore-fest from start to finish in whi...